Back into the mainstream: Mall department store browsing

One recent weekend, after dropping my son off at church camp, my husband and I decided to eat at a restaurant nearby that we like but never get to go to because of the great distance from our house. But the camp drop-off went much smoother and quicker than we anticipated (son’s M.O.: Lose the parental units ASAP! Pre-teens, don’t you know?) and that left us with a bit of extra time on our hands. So we stopped at a mall close by to poke around. DH left me and headed off to the men’s section. OK, I thought, I’ll brave the perfume counters to see if there’s anything new and/or interesting out there in the mainstream.

mainstream 2 Well, no and no, not surprisingly. If this were Saks or Neiman’s or even Nordstrom, there might have been possibilities, but no, not here. I went around and around the fragrance bays and they seemed to be overrun with celebrity scents. It’s like they just kept multiplying and multiplying until there was no room left for anything else. Finally, I came across a tray or two that looked somewhat less starstruck. Here’s what I found to test:

Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess: Two bottles were out, one called a skin scent and the other a spray oil. I opted for the skin scent. It was rather pleasant with its soft, tropical beachy ambience and made me long for vacation. If someone gave me a bottle of this, I could see myself wearing it. Truth be told, I was really hoping to try EL’s Tuberose Gardenia body cream or lotion but that was nowhere to be seen. I think that even if the counter has it for sale, they don’t offer it as a tester.

Oscar de la Renta EDT: Sprayed this on one wrist and immediately regretted it. Yuck! Not sure what they did to it but it surely didn’t resemble the Oscar of old, as I remember it — not even close. I rarely say this about fragrances, but the words “bug spray” popped into my head.

Oscar de la Renta EDP: Now this is a little more like it. Not quite the original scent, but at least it was somewhat recognizable as such. I’ll still take vintage any day, or even the quite nice L’Esprit d’ Oscar, but this would do in a pinch.

What mainstream scents have come across your radar lately?

  • shaney says:

    I have been avoiding mainstreams for a bit now, but I have to say, I’m kind of intrigued all of a sudden by Kate Walsh Boyfriend. I think I may be about to do a blind swap of it…I think it’s certainly something I can swap out again if I don’t love it, but I was looking for something that wasn’t soooooooo feminine (I like to smell like I’ve been rolling around the forest floor after a campfire), but would be appropriate for summer. We’ll see…I’ll report back!!!

    • Ann says:

      Hey, Shaney, go for it, I say! That is a great choice. It’s got that little bit of masculine underpinning that’s quite nice. I really like the body cream as well — very plush and cozy.

      • Ann says:

        I think that it’s only at Sephora, more’s the pity, and there’s not one near me 🙁 except for when I go to the big city. Sephora definitely has some cool stuff to explore …

  • kizzers says:

    Scotland calling! 🙂 I’m quite lucky to have two major department stores within 25 miles of home, namely House of Fraser and Debenhams. Debenhams is your standard mall store, but carries a pretty good range of perfumes and beauty. House of Fraser carries a huge range of mainstream and some niche (Serge, Etro, Aqua Di Parma, Hermesences, Armani Prive, Chanel Exclusifs, Tom Ford PC) so I’m pretty spoiled for choice. I’ve been buying a lot of mainstream perfumes lately, mainly because they’re so easy to get a hold of – EL Bronze Goddess, YSL Paris (re-release), Prada Candy L’Eau, Chanel Chance (pure parfum), NR For Her Intense Musc, Kenzo Madly EDP, Bottega Veneta Eau Legere. Next on the list will be Chanel Cristalle Eau Verte. There are some gems out there holding their own against the tidal wave of fruity, candyfloss celeb-u-dreck. I try to give everything a sniff and a chance at least.

    • Ann says:

      Hello, Kizzers! So glad you stopped by. I have a very soft spot for all things Scottish, as my adopted grandmother was from there and I loved listening to her wonderful accent. (I attended the University of Georgia and hearing her yell, “Go, Bulldogs!” and cheer during a televised game was priceless!).
      You are fortunate to have such good shopping, especially House of Fraser. They have Armani Prive and the Chanel Exclusifs. you say? Be still, my heart! I do remember them having Mary Greenwell Plum when it first came out and I was dying to try it. BTW, you found some excellent mainstream goodies there — nice!

  • Jan Last says:

    It’s easy to get those ol’ department store blues, but before I went down the rabbit hole, I made do. So, just to see what I could find, I went to TJ Maxx, which is a little like a thrift store, with new items. But, I bought a DKNY Pure DKNY set for 11.00. Nice, throw on scent for summer. I got 100 ml. lotion and bath gel. Then I went to Target and they had one of my all-time cheap bubbly scents, Demeter Gingerale. Also cheap. Patted myself on the back, went home, ordered Olfactive Studio’s Still Life. Go figure, lol.

    • Ann says:

      Howdy, Jan! I’m showing my age here, but back when I was coming up, the department store choices were pretty decent, but that’s been years and years (practically the dark ages, ha!). Lucky you on TJ Maxx — I have never, ever seen anything but pure dreck in there, mostly beat-up bottles and boxes of junk-ola. BTW, I’m coming to shop at your Target 😉 I would be tickled pink if mine had Demeter. That Gingerale sounds perfect for summer.

  • Mimi G says:

    I trolled Macy’s this weekend and bought the stupendous Estee Lauder’s original Private Collection – at last….. with it’s galbanum green goodness . it’s such a sturdy and gracious perfume. Wafting it now !

  • alityke says:

    This is really interesting for me living in the UK. Here even the smallest town will have a Boots store with a selection of classic Guerlains, Chanels, Diors etc. Larger Boots will carry the mainstream Tom Fords too. The UK also has stand alone perfume kiosks in even small malls. Again with fairly large ranges including the occasional EldO and John Varvartos. I’ve only ever found really good customer service in these mini stores, they’ll order in, call round other kiosks and everything is discounted. They can even be good places to scout out older formula fragrances.

    I’ve never felt fortunate in the shopping department before

    • Ann says:

      See, you’re luckier than you thought! 🙂 You have a lot of nice options there. And I remember loving Boots when I visited London. Wish they’d come across the Pond to the States!

      • hajusuuri says:

        Boots came across the Pond via Target. Target carries the Boots No. 7 line. I loved browsing in Boots but oh the prices were outrageous. I was in London about 10 years ago and back then, I remember a small travel size tube of toothpaste cost almost $4!

  • Rina says:

    Ok, admittedly, I was in a Nordstrom, but I found the new TF by accident, Sahara Noir. I had forgotten about it completely but now am in serious smit! I can see a FB after their generous sample. Good thing it’s not a Private Blend. Hope they extend it to a body line like Black Orchid and Neroli Portofino….Sadly, sounds like you described my local Macy’s and JC Penny perfectly. Maybe that’s why I only walk through their perfume counters on the way to elsewhere.

    • Ann says:

      Rina, so glad you found something to love! Nordstrom usually carries some decent offerings and they’re usually pretty good about making samples for you, so that’s nice.

  • Beth says:

    This is my life. Around us there is a Macy’s, but that’s it. We have no Nordstroms, no Saks, no Neiman Marcus, the Macy’s is the pinnacle of the department store ladder. After that there’s Penny’s, Sears and Kohls. Of course we have Sephora and Ulta, but they’re right up there with Macy’s. I bemoan the fact that I live in a barren wasteland as far as perfume is concerned, and most everyone laughs at me. Until I get them into perfume, then they commiserate with me. If I want to smell anything other than celebuscents, I have to drive 3 hours to Chicago or 3 hours to Detroit. And I really don’t understand it. We are the 2nd biggest city in the state.

    No wonder more people aren’t interested in perfume when all you offer them are the dregs. My brother-in-law got sucked into my perfume frenzy when he sampled some Montale’s while in Europe. Suddenly it was like a light went on … ohhhhh, there ARE interesting things to smell out there. Turns out he likes something a little odd, he went for the Lime Aoud. Now he wants to sample a bunch of others. It starts a person wondering what else is out there that they’ve never experienced. Thus the mania begins!

    • Ann says:

      Hooray, Beth, that you’ve got another family member hooked on fragrance. Have fun showing him the ropes! Macy’s is a little bit better than some of the others as they seem to have more room for things. But I do envy you being able to at least drive to Chicago, although I know 3 hours is no picnic.

  • rosarita says:

    Ann, I know just what you’re saying. The closest mall to me is over an hour’s drive and all they have is Macy’s; for a Nordstrom, I have to get to Indianapolis, 3+ hours, and even then the downtown store is closed and it’s a real hassle getting to another one. Hmph. Since my teenager has long left the nest, I am hardly ever at a mall and the Macy store closest to me has absolutely nothing of interest. I do agree with Sherri that Crystal Noir is not bad (my sample came from a swap) but once I procured a decant I found it was just too sweet for my taste. I’m with the other non-fruit fans, and I’m not a sweet fan either, which rules out just about everything in a mall. Everything smells the same! Sometimes I can get some Cinnabar at the EL counter if I ask for it.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, lady! I hear you on having to jump through hoops just to get to some decent sniffing. I agree that Estee Lauder has some nice things, but as you noted, you might have to ask to have them pull them out for you. I know counter space can be limited but if people saw many of their fragrances, they’d be more likely to buy. In the fragrance world, it definitely seems like “out of sight, out of mind.”

  • Sherri says:

    I’m at the mall quite frequently. I can’t say I’ve found much interesting in new mainstream releases, but there were two mainstream fragrances I thought were interesting. Miss Dior Le Parfum (not to be confused with Miss Dior Cherie, Miss Dior L’eau, etc.) is a very pretty floral. They not only took away the strawberry which I could not personally stand, but which many thought gave Miss Dior Cherie personality, but essentially reworked it into an entirely different perfume. It is completely pleasant and likable, and deserves its own name. Sweet little bottle, too!

    One of the SA’s was trailing a beautiful sweet, musky trail. I complimented her, expecting her to tell me it was one of the Bonds or something, but instead she said it was Versace Crystal Noir. She gave me a sample, but I haven’t spent much time with it yet. The mainstream perfumes in general tend to be made with more irritants. So, though I may love the sillage of the perfumes on someone else, having the perfume on myself all day often results in a migraine. Still, amidst the mostly fruity floral offerings, it’s worth checking this one out!

    • Ann says:

      Lucky you, Sherri! There was nary a Dior or Versace bottle to be seen at the dinky departments I visited. Literally there was an EL counter, a Clinique one, Lancome and three fragrance bays and that was it.
      I’ll have to give that Dior a try as I wasn’t wild about the strawberry either. And do let us know how the Versace turns out on you.

      • Sherri says:

        Ann, Oh yes I know the feeling. If I had gone to the local Belk, it would have been like that. They do sell Chanel fragrances and some Diors at the fragrance counter, but you are right–it is pretty much overrun with celeb scents. I’m not sure who buys all these, but someone must. Not sure whom they’re targeting either. My teens were crazy about Wonderstruck when it came out, but for the most part sticks with Victoria’s Secret fragrances. The celeb scents are a larger chunk out a 16 year old working at Lil’ Caesars paycheck. Even the teens acknowledge they “mostly smell alike anyway”. So who exactly is taken in by all this celebrity stuff?

        • E.Lime says:

          I was just enjoying a sample of Miss Dior Le Parfum this past week (before the weather got a little too hot for it). I had spritzed it on at the mall out of curiosity, and it really is quite a lovely scent! I do still get a tiny hint of fruity something… though not full on strawberry!

          • Ann says:

            Sherri, that’s so funny that even some teens note how much alike they smell. I’m curious, too, who is buying all this. And now you and E.Lime have got me set on trying that Dior when I head to town in the next few days.

  • poodle says:

    I’m not much of a mall rat. I only go when I have to and I’m in the right mood. Truth or Dare isn’t bad. There’s always at least something nice at the Estée Lauder counter. I can’t smell the difference between most of the celebrity scents. I’m convinced that they are all the same scent with just a few tweaks to the formula and a different label on the bottle. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but they are mostly forgettable.

    • Ann says:

      Poodle, I think you’re on to something there about the formula. It does seem that way, doesn’t it? There was no Truth or Dare in my mall expedition though, I’m sorry to say. The scent itself is a bit too much on me but I would have loved a slather of the body lotion. And yes, the EL counter is one of the saving graces in department stores.

      • poodle says:

        I bought a set of 4 Ed Hardy perfumes. Only because it was $6. I can barely tell the difference between them. My niece said she liked one so I’ll give them to her I guess. If she likes one, she’ll like them all as far as I can tell.

        • Ann says:

          What a bargain, Poodle! And it’s so nice of you to give them to her. I’ve not sniffed that line but it’s got to be better than some of those other celeb-u-scents.

  • eldarwen22 says:

    The last time I stepped foot in a mall was about 2 months ago. I checked out the local Dillard’s and Macy’s. I swear that it was the same thing in both stores. A huge display of whatever the latest celebrity scent and any given brand’s best sellers. For some reason, I do like to check out the itty bitty Chanel counter. It’s always the same though, no. 5 is the dominant followed by Mademoiselle and then the Chance and the Chance flankers. I do want to see a nice mix of the classics and new stuff.

    • Ann says:

      Amen to that! I was in a Belk’s, but it easily could have been those two stores you mention. Alas, this mall was so small that there was no Chanel counter to be found (and I would have welcomed it)!

      • eldarwen22 says:

        It wasn’t a real Chanel counter but maybe 3 or 4 feet of what is probably the Chanel best sellers. The mall I am the closest to has a big Estee Lauder and Clinique counter but everything seems to be just a jumble of other perfumes.

        • Ann says:

          These stores didn’t have a single Chanel fragrance out that I could see.And you’re right about the “jumble of other perfumes” — that’s exactly what it seemed like to me, too.

  • FeralJasmine says:

    I do like the Estée Lauder Tuberose Gardenia and have a big vat of it, and find it lovely for summer. And on occasion I wear Flowerbomb and genuinely enjoy it, maybe because on me it is complex floral but not that sweet. Other than that, the dept. store counters seem pretty barren to me. Part of this may be that I tend to dislike fruit notes, in fact actively hate some of them, and everything that doesn’t smell like fabric softener is full of fruit notes. Yech! Ann, have you smelled Gucci Guilty Black? It may be the ultimate in cliche deep fruit.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, lady! No, I haven’t tried that one, but don’t think I’m missing too much. I used to like fruity scents (and a few really well-done ones I still do) but they’ve just oversaturated the market with them.

      • FeralJasmine says:

        By the way, have you noticed that many men really like Flowerbomb? The only other perfume I’ve ever worn that garnered so much male comment is vintage Organza Indecence. I find it surprising, since Flowerbomb seems pleasant to me but not nearly as interesting as a lot of other things in my stash. Is this an idiosyncratic thing among the men that I know, or has anyone else noticed the phenomenon?

        • Ann says:

          Seems like I have heard of Flowerbomb garnering quite a few compliments. Would be interesting to find out why …

  • Susan says:

    I was sniffing away at the mall on Saturday and ran into the same problem. I was hoping to find Estée Lauder’s new one, Modern Muse, but it hasn’t hit our stores yet. The SA pulled Pure White Linen Light Breeze from a hidden spot behind the counter and suggested I give it a try. Why keep the old favorites displayed and hide the new ones? Anyway, it was a nice breezy citrusy scent which I quite liked, a little sister to my favorite Chanel Chance Eau Fraiche. But after an hour it morphed into-guess what-White Linen, the original fragrance which I don’t care for. I’m ready for some innovation in the mainstream world! Guess that’s an oxymoron!

    • Ann says:

      Hi, Susan! Man, do I wish I had seen that one to try it! I’m wondering the same thing myself: Why isn’t the newest scent prominently displayed? And you’re so right about innovation. Maybe one day.

    • JanLast says:

      It does seem as if this is turning into a fruit bowl summer! Mancera Wild Fruit is my current (or currant) crushed fruit concoction. Smells great in the AC, but attracts fruit flies on the back porch.

      • Ann says:

        Oh, no, Jan! I’ve never heard of that before — guess I’d better be careful when wearing my fruities outdoors, ha!